Pacific Crest Trail: Q & A Including Gear List
What shoes did you hike in?
I started in Altra Lonepeak trail runners. I love the wide toe box on the Altras, but the zero drop in the heel killed my feet. I quickly changed over to Brooks Cascadia 13’s which are my go-to trail runners. The Brooks were not great because they would quickly get holes on the side near the big toe joint, but they were comfortable enough to get me through. I had to replace them approximately every 500 miles. Towards the end of their life, I would take my shoes off after hiking all day and my feet would be black from dirt and there would be a sandbox inside of them. The only time I had blister issues was in the Washington rain when my feet were soaked. I did just purchase the Cascadia 14’s and I like them. The toe box is wider and they fixed the breaks in the tread on the bottom of the shoes so that they will (hopefully) no longer get holes in them.
Kilo started the trail in Salomon Trail Runners; however, after getting horrible blisters on his heels, he quickly changed to Salomon boots which he had always hiked in prior to the PCT.
Did we carry a stove? Cook or cold soak?
We did carry a stove and we cold soaked. We started the trail with only one stove to share, but quickly purchased another one. At the end of the day we were starving and one person did not want to wait for the other to cook his/her meal. Also, we wanted to eat dinner together at the same time. A hot meal at the end of the day was important to us. That is the only time we cooked. For lunch we would cold soak Ramen noodles because it was easy and slightly more satisfying than more Cliff Bars.
What were our biggest weather challenges?
We tried to wait out the snow in the Sierra Mountains by getting off trail for three weeks and doing a road trip to Utah. Unfortunately, while in Utah it continued to snow in the high Sierra. When we got back on trail we flipped up to Donner Pass from Walker Pass. I was bummed not to do this section, but I know we made the right decision (not just because of the snow, but also the high river crossings once the snow started to melt). Many of the hikers we spoke to that did go through the Sierras said that every day they had at least one moment in which they feared for their life. When we got back on trail at Donner Pass there was still 15+ feet of snow, no trail in sight and we did not see any other hikers for days. This section was challenging due to the snow, but unlike the Sierras there were more “outs” to resupply.
The relentless rain in Washington was challenging as well, but we knew that was coming. After three days in rain everything is wet, even gear in waterproof bags. It was muddy and often the trail was a river we had to walk through.
How heavy were our packs?
We never weighed our packs. They were likely too heavy, but we carried them for over 2,000 miles. We were definitely in the Ultra Heavy (UH) weight class verses the Ultra Light (UL) class. With Ultra Light you trade comfort on the trail while hiking (less feet pain & the ability to hike more miles, faster) for less comfort in camp at night or when it gets cold. For us, comfort in camp and a good night’s sleep was important as was staying warm and dry. We always changed out of our sweaty clothes at the end of the day. Just doing that brought immediate warmth and comfort after a hard day. We changed back into those same sweaty clothes the next morning to hike again, but at least we were comfortable at night.
Can you please provide a Gear List?
Osprey Backpack Aura 65L (older version; I like the Osprey backpacks because they have frames built to carry the weight we wanted to bring. Osprey has the “Almighty Guarantee” in which they will repair or replace their backpacks for life. Kilo’s original backpack he started the trail with developed holes in it and two of the zippers busted. My backpack also developed holes in the hip pockets. So, while on our road trip (see below for road trip details) we stopped at the Osprey Global Headquarters in Cortez, CO and dropped off the backpacks to be either repaired or replaced. I have had this backpack for about five years and have taken it on the Patagonia W Trek and backpacking in New Zealand).
Osprey 20L Dry Sack (I put my food in here).
Garmin In-Reach Mini (This device could save your life. It has an SOS button that contacts the local authorities and allows you to text message with them. The device sends them your latitude and longitude coordinates so they can locate you. If you press the SOS button, they will also reach out to your emergency contacts. Luckily, we did not need to press the SOS button. The feature we did use was the pre-set text messaging. Every night when we got into camp we would send a message to our immediate family and friends that said everything is OK and we have made it to camp. The text message would also send a map to our family/friends so they could see where we were and follow our journey.)
Nemo Galaxy 2P Tent (we divided this up & each carried a piece)
Nemo Jam Down 15 degree Sleeping bag (Kilo has the men’s version which is the Riff. The Jam and the Riff zip up together which is great for couples. We stored our sleeping bags in Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sacks)
Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow
Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Sleeping Bag Liner
BSR outdoor camping gas cooking stove
Gas for stove (whatever was available in the small towns where we resupplied)
TOAKS 750ml Titanium pot
Sea to Summit Titanium Spork
Nemo Tensor Sleeping Pad (Nemo no longer makes this version, but there are newer versions)
Sawyer Water filter
Two smart water bottles
Deuce of spades backpacking trowel
High gaiters (for snow)
Black Diamond Raven Ice axe
Black Diamond Distance Carbon Z Poles
Sea to Summit Mosquito Face Net
Two one gallon zip lock bags (one for food trash and one for bathroom trash; abiding by Leave No Trace principles we packed out ALL trash, yes, including used toilet paper).
Clothes (stored in a Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack):
Oiselle Long Roga Shorts (loved the side pocket for my phone. I could easily pull it out to take pictures. Did not love how long it took the waistband to dry either from sweat or hand washing)
InkNBurn Nerd Tech Shirt (how I got my trail name)
InkNBurn Long Sleeved Shirt
Augusta Black Mesh Visor (Amazon)
Marmot 800 Fill Down Jacket with Hood
Marmot Precip Rain Jacket
REI Rain Pants
Smart Wool long sleeved shirt & long tights to sleep in (as soon as we got into the tent I would immediately change into this to get out of my sweaty clothes in an effort to keep warm. Even the nights in the SoCal desert were cold. 2019 was not a normal PCT year. I would put my hiking clothes underneath my sleeping bag on my sleeping pad and sleep on them. My body heat would dry them and keep them somewhat warm).
Old Navy “Polaroid” T-shirt for town
Darn Tough 1/4 Cushion socks x3 (I had two pair of socks in the SoCal desert, but once we hit snow in NorCal I needed 3 pairs as they were constantly wet from snow & river crossings)
Brooks Rebound Racer Sports Bra
Nike Running Tights
Teva Flip flops
Goodr Sunglasses (for most of the time)
Travel toothbrush (fun fact: the creek water would turn it brown & the town water would turn the brush back to white again)
Disposal razor (yes, I shaved my legs in town)
Leuko tape (imperative for blisters especially in Washington while raining)
Body wipes (nightly “shower”)
Deodorant (the first half of the trail I went without, but I started to smell so bad that it annoyed me so I got deodorant)
Ben’s 100% Deet (I might have jumped off a mountain without this in Oregon because the mosquitos were that horrible)
What did we eat?
Here is a typical day (in terms of food) for me:
1st Breakfast: Cinnamon Sugar Pop-Tarts with an instant Starbucks Pikes Place coffee in cold water.
2nd Breakfast: a Cliff Bar dipped in peanut butter
1st Lunch: cold soaked Ramen noodles (meaning we put the Ramen noodles and seasoning in an old peanut butter jar, filled it with cold water and let the noodles soak and soften for 1 1/2-2 hours while hiking. I would throw something crunchy in my noodles like peanuts, cashews or Goldfish. )
2nd Lunch: Pepperoni in a flour tortilla with something crunchy thrown in or a flour tortilla with peanut butter if I did not have pepperoni
Afternoon Snack: a Builders Cliff Bar (more protein than the regular cliff bars) often dipped in peanut butter.
Dinner: a Knor Side Dish. The chicken flavored fettuccine noodles were my favorite along with the chicken flavored rice. We would cut up a beef stick and throw that into the dish for extra flavor and protein. I would also put Goldfish (the snack that smiles back) in my noodles for something crunchy and for extra calories.
Dessert: Snickers Bar
What was our average daily mileage?
When we first started the trail we were doing about 15 miles a day. Through the heavy snow sections in NorCal we averaged 10 miles per day. And through Oregon and Washington we did between 20-25 miles per day.
What was one thing I regretted not bringing?
In the beginning, more food. I quickly realized that I constantly needed to be snacking otherwise I would get hangry. I ate more than Kilo did on Trail.
Did we ever consider quitting?
We never considered quitting, but there were days when we just wanted to lay in the tent in our sleeping bags all day and not hike. Unfortunately that was not possible. We had to keep moving to the next town so we would not run out of food. The trail was HARD and I had a couple of meltdowns, but I let myself cry for a minute and then got back up and kept walking. Quitting was never a thought or an option.
At any time on the trail did we ever meet anyone that made us feel threatened or afraid?
No. We never felt threatened or afraid on trail due to people or wildlife. It is more dangerous on the streets of Los Angeles than in the wilderness.
What wildlife did you see?
We saw several rattlesnakes in the SoCal desert. Several deer, especially the particularly bold deer outside of Etna. In Washington we saw several Picas and Marmots. Kilo saw two bears in Lassen Volcanic National Park. A fellow hiker saw a wolf in Washington (but we did not).
What was your favorite section(s) of the Trail?
Both Kilo and I loved Goat Rocks Wilderness (and walking The Knife’s Edge) in Washington, and the Trinity Alps in Northern California. We definitely would love to go back to both and spend more time exploring. We also loved the bakery in Stehekin. I would argue this is the best bakery in the United States. People take a four hour ferry followed by a 15 minute shuttle to get there.
What was your least favorite section(s) of the trail?
The beginning of Oregon and the beginning of Washington. Both sections were all about getting in miles with no spectacular views so that we could get to the spectacular views. Southern Oregon was a hot zone for mosquitos.
Explain the saddest and happiest times on trail.
Reaching the Northern Terminus. We were happy to be done because Washington had been so grueling (and we were proud of ourselves) and yet a bit sad that the adventure was coming to an end.
What surprised you the most about the trail?
The vast amount of wilderness that still exists (and how important it is to protect that wilderness). We were also surprised by the number of burnt forests from wild fires, particularly in Oregon. Finally, it was amazing how random strangers were so quick to help us. Whether it was offering us a ride to town, feeding us, providing us with a chair to sit on, etc. The trail brought out the good in people and restored our faith in humanity.
How are your legs & feet recuperating?
When we got off trail and would stand up first thing in the morning, the bottoms of my feet were so tender I could barely walk. Now, almost a month post trail, I still have occasional pain in my feet especially in the morning and Kilo has random pains in his as well. If I sit for too long my legs get really stiff and it is hard to get up again. My knees sometimes hurt. For the first three weeks post trail we did no exercise at all and ate...a lot, which might explain the stiffness.
Are you going to write a book?
No, I am not planning on writing a book. I appreciate the support from our family and friends, but there are so many books and blogs that past PCT hikers have written. I do not think my story is that unique to warrant a book. I like writing the blog and will continue to write blog posts.
How is it returning to life off trail?
We left Vancouver, Canada and stayed with Kilo’s brother and his wife in Southern California for two weeks. It was weird going home to SoCal, but not having our own home to go home to. We are super grateful to Sergio and Liz for letting us crash at their place while we relaxed and recovered. I sold my car prior to hiking the PCT so again it felt odd to be “home,” but not be able to drive.
What did you learn? What was your biggest takeaway from this adventure?
My biggest takeaway was to live a life with no regrets/to prioritize and make plans to do the things I dream of. You know thing that you wish you could do and you always say, “one day...”, well, do it. Do what you need to do (save money, purchase the gear, etc.) to make that thing possible. Kilo and I met so many older day hikers on trail that would stop to talk to us and would say “I wish I would have done the PCT” or “I regret not doing that when I was younger” or “you are so lucky.” I do not want to grow old with regrets or wishing I would have done something.
Kilo’s biggest takeaway was to slow down and enjoy the moment. We had come down from Mt. San Jacinto and were setting up camp for the night when Kilo looked over at our friend Just Jeff who was sitting outside his tent (in a full on wind storm) admiring the clouds. He was watching how the mountain was holding the clouds back from coming over to our side of the mountain. It was an awesome sight that we almost missed because we were too busy being busy.
What is next for you guys?
We are currently on a road trip driving cross country to see my family and friends in Maryland. After Maryland we plan to move to either Durango, CO or Bend, OR. Durango is part of the road trip. We want to live in a smaller mountain town with four seasons and a community built around the outdoors. Both of the above cities check all of those boxes. We want to learn how to cross country ski. We want to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. We want to complete the Tour du Mt. Blanc and enjoy wine and cheese in Chamonix, France. All adventures we will make possible over the next couple of years. And I am sure we will add to that list. Oh, and yes, once we settle down in our new city we will go back to work to finance future adventures.